The Jerusalem Prayer Breakfast (JPB) is an annual gathering of government, civic, and religious leaders from around the world, who come together in Jerusalem to pray for peace and seek solutions to global challenges. The event was first held in 2017 and is inspired by the National Prayer Breakfast held annually in the United States. The JPB is organized by a coalition of Israeli and international leaders, and the program includes keynote speeches, panel discussions, and prayer sessions. The goal of the JPB is to promote interfaith dialogue, strengthen relationships between nations, and encourage leaders to work together for the common good.
Albert Veksler is the organizing force behind the JPB. In 2008, Veksler, who worked for years as the CEO for various nongovernmental organizations, founded JPBM Consulting, which manages projects in team development and training, NGO structuring and coalition building.
Veksler spoke with The Media Line’s Felice Friedson about the relationship of notable Christians with the State of Israel, his publication of a groundbreaking textbook about the Holocaust for schools in Scandinavia and Estonia, the origins of the JPB, and his work making the JPB a worldwide phenomenon.
So far, the history-making JPB events have taken place in London, Accra, Orlando, Singapore, San Antonio, Kampala, Basel, The Hague, Helsinki, Canberra, Bloemfontein, Rome, Tallinn, Dallas, and Brasília, and soon a JPB will be held in Houston.
TML: Albert Veksler is CEO of the Jerusalem Prayer Breakfast. Welcome to The Media Line and thanks so much for taking the time!
Albert Veksler: Thank you for having me, Felice! I’m really happy to be with you.
TML: The Jerusalem Prayer Breakfast has become a fixture around the world. What inspired you to embark on this venture?
Albert Veksler: Well, in 2016 Knesset Member Robert Ilatov approached me asking for my help to build a new alliance of the Friends of Israel. I gave him an idea that was quite crazy. And he told me also, “You’re out of your mind.” I said that we need a prayer breakfast. And he said, “Look, this is the Jewish state.” Having seen what the National Prayer Breakfast movement is about, he said, “You don’t expect us to pray to Jesus, do you?”
And so I said, “Look, we can find something that the Jews and Christians can actually agree about.” He said, “Forget it, you’re out of your mind!” But then he went to speak with then-president Reuven Rivlin. He came back saying, “Rivlin loved it. He wants to host it. Are you going to help me or not?”
So then we had this challenge of bringing the VIPs from the evangelical world together. President Rivlin, as he promised, hosted during the first prayer breakfast in 2017, but we didn’t know, Felice, that this vision, this idea, will take us all over the world and we’ve been now in 16 cities, invited by the first ladies, invited by the presidents, invited by the senators, members of parliament, to come and bring and bring together the Jewish community and the Christian community in order to pray together for the peace of Jerusalem.
TML: You know, I was going to begin with, “In Jerusalem we say, what was its genesis?” But you kind of hit on it already. What was the year?
Albert Veksler: That was 2017 that we had our first event which was also the 50th anniversary for the reunification of Jerusalem.
TML: And how many prayer breakfasts have you had already? Where have they been? Just give us a scope.
Albert Veksler: Well, we’ve had six in Jerusalem, like annual prayer breakfasts. We are expecting now our seventh on the 75th anniversary of Israel. But then we’ve had the last one in Brasília, invited by the former first lady of Brazil. We’ve had one in Dallas. We’ve had one in Tallinn, Estonia. We’ve had one in Helsinki, Finland. We’ve had one in Rome, Italy. We’ve had in Singapore. In Canberra. We’ve had one in Orlando, Florida, The Hague – that was quite a unique one – and so on and so forth.
We have so many stories [that] you wouldn’t believe what has happened.
TML: When you began this, did you think that it would become such an institution?
Albert Veksler: No, we didn’t! We were thinking if we can manage to get our event to happen annually, I thought we were doing good. But this really surprised us.
TML: Polls indicate that it’s a tough time for religion. Do you believe in polls?
Albert Veksler: Polls are very often the way they are because of the way the questions are asked, and I guess there is an element of truth in what the polls are saying. Yes, we are in a tough moment.
TML: And how do you see it evolving? You see many youths disillusioned, so where do you see this at the moment?
Albert Veksler: We see, of course, people that are getting stronger in their convictions, but then there are those who are leaving their convictions. But what the Jerusalem Prayer Breakfast does is that we are bringing together these covenant relations between Israel and the nations, and I think that this is something that strengthens Israel but also our allies.
TML: Is there power in prayer?
Albert Veksler: Oh, absolutely! You should have seen what had happened in The Hague when the Jewish community and the Christian community came together in the Knight’s Hall, the so-called Ridderzaal where the king only gives his annual speech. And the Netherlands railway which is 100% owned by the government had been dragging their feet in paying reparations to the Holocaust survivors, and they have been delaying paying it out.
The day we were there in the Ridderzaal our friend Jack van der Tang spoke from the prophets, Isaiah, saying, “My people is robbed, and no one says give back.” Well, the very same night, we had something very unique happen. The host from the parliament, Eppo Bruins, ran to us saying, “Do you know what happened?” And we said, “How can we know if you don’t tell us.” So he said, “The government finally paid out the reparations.” And we’re talking about tens of millions of euros that were released on that day. Now, some could say that is a coincidence. Well, I like these kinds of coincidences. Don’t you?
TML: Absolutely! You were born in Estonia but lived in Israel for many years, and you speak fluent Hebrew. What drew you to live in the Jewish state?
Albert Veksler: Well, this is a long story actually. We started coming to Israel in 1990. My parents then made their aliyah, and then gradually after 18 visits to Israel, we made up our minds and in early 2003 we made Israel our home.
TML: How many other Estonians are living in Israel?
Albert Veksler: It’s a small community. We’re talking about 1,000 Estonian Jews [here], but it’s an interesting community, and actually pretty active, meeting every year.
TML: As you witnessed the Judeo-Christian relations evolve over the years, what gives you the greatest hope, and where is there room for improvement?
Albert Veksler: Well, I would say that there has been a major paradigm shift from the Jewish side and also from the Christian side. And I think we can track it back to maybe the last 50, 40 years when it I think began. Of course, we’ve seen [prime minister David] Ben-Gurion inviting the World Pentecostal Conference to Jerusalem already in the early ’60s. [Prime minister Menachem] Begin sending out his emissaries to the Christian world to really make friends. Then, [there’s Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu – he has known how to speak to the Christian world for ages. I mean, easily he could have been president if he would have been born in the United States.
But you could see that there has been a gradual shift to the point that the Israeli public is saying, well, we’ve had a very problematic history with the Christians, but these evangelicals are actually good people. We can see more and more rabbis feeling comfortable reaching out to their Christian friends, realizing that there is more than just cliché type of slogans that the Christians are, well, accused of.
But at the same time, we see that the bridges are built, and the relationships are built, and we see that the trust – this is the most important thing – is built through these years.
TML: On the other side of the question, is there room for improvement? I mean, nothing in the world goes easily.
Albert Veksler: No, absolutely there is, and I think it will be important for both sides to study the history and to see how for example, Theodor Herzl had a great friend, an Anglican pastor, William Hechler, and how their friendship actually led to the first World Zionist Congress in Basel. I mean, many people don’t know that Herzl invited 10 Christian delegates whom he called, for the first time, they were called Christian Zionists.
So, we know that Chaim Weizmann and [Arthur] Balfour were working together, and I mean, there was cooperation on both sides. It led to the Balfour Declaration. It led to [the] San Remo Conference which basically became the foundation of the British Mandate, saying that the British government is favorable in building the Jewish national home in this so-called Palestine at that time.
So, what we can see is that whenever, I mean, you can bring many other examples like President [Harry] Truman and his Jewish friend Eddie Jacobson, who basically led the way for Chaim Weizmann to meet with [President] Truman. These are the moment that actually changed the history.
So, yes there is a place for improvement, but this always has come and will come through friendships. And that is what I believe is the important word: friendships.
TML: You have a love of political science and international relations, and you also published the first textbook about the Holocaust in cooperation with the Ministry of Education in Estonia and the US Embassy. What was the feedback on that?
Albert Veksler: The feedback was actually very good, because that was never being spoken about … Eastern European countries are quite, what can I say, sensitive in their role of what happened during the Holocaust, and that’s why pointing this out, having the historians to really study and look into the facts and the stories, is very, very helpful.
This project was actually started by a former Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson who came to Israel, and being a socialist, nobody really expected him to really fall in love with the State of Israel, but he did, and he was the one that started a major project in Scandinavia, in Sweden in particular, and he started publishing these books and bringing them, these textbooks, to the schools in Sweden.
And I think it had a great impact on everybody in Scandinavia. In particular, in Estonia, we were very successful with this book launch.
TML: Current studies show [that] Holocaust denial is rampant, particularly among young people. Many don’t even believe that it happened. Do you feel that there is a way to reverse this trend?
Albert Veksler: I believe so, and I think that we need to be talking about the historical facts more than ever because people are talking about their truths and their opinions of the truth, whereas we need to focus on what has really happened.
Of course, the culture has changed, and young people watch their TikTok and their Instagram, and I think we need to go onto these platforms to reach out to them because there is no other way to reach them. Everybody is looking at their phones nowadays.
TML: How can people find out where they can go to a breakfast in their hometown?
Albert Veksler: Well, we have now a huge event coming in Texas, Houston, and we will see the governor, Greg Abbott, and Ron Lauder participate in this. And Felice, you will be with us, I think. It’s going to be exciting. So people can look up our website in America that we use right now. It’s called jpbtexas.org.
We also have our main website about our annual events in Jerusalem, and it’s called JerusalemPrayerBreakfast.org (one word). And you can look up many things [there].
TML: Albert, before I let you go, and this is very important, what is your favorite prayer?
Albert Veksler: Well, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6). The Bible says, “May they prosper who love you.” It doesn’t say, who know about you, who heard about you, who visited you, who will come again. It says, who loves Jerusalem.
There is something about Jerusalem, something about loving this city, something about praying toward this place that the Prophet Daniel did even in the worst time of his life, in captivity, under threats. And this is a key, I believe, for many, many things that wait for us in the future.
TML: Albert Veksler, thank you so much for joining me on The Media Line, and much success with your Jerusalem Prayer Breakfast!
Albert Veksler: Thank you, Felice! And I’ll be very happy to hear you speak in Houston.